Coach calls for big push in second half of season

Ben Neville, Matlock RFC
Ben Neville, Matlock RFC

MATLOCK RFC’s 1st team coach has pronounced himself happy with his side’s first half of the season but believes it could have been even better – had the squad not fallen foul of umpteen injury problems.

The side currently sits in sixth position in the Midlands One East as the league gets ready for the resumption of action this Saturday, after the Christmas and New Year break.

In his first season in the role, coach Alan Johnson was delighted with the way pre-season went and wasn’t surprised that the side started the campaign so well, thumping Nuneaton Old Edwardians 66-9 and then following that up with two more wins.

But since then, the side has failed to put a run of results together and the injury problems of the last six weeks have made consistency of selection virtually impossible, resulting in plenty of players having to slot into unfamiliar positions.

But Alan Johnson feels this adversity has brought the best out of his squad and has helped him find out more about what his players are capable of when the going gets tough.

He explained: “If you’d said in May when I started in this role that we’d be sixth at the turnaround, we’d have been happy, but I think, based on our pre-season showing, and also the way we have played at times, there might be a feeling of disappointment about it.”

Alan Johnson went on: “The injuries have proved a real problem in recent times but every club gets injuries, it’s how you deal with them that counts and I think, as a club, we have dealt with it really well and in a way it’s brought out the best in us.

“We’ve got stuck in and we have stood up to be counted, particularly lads who might not have much previous experience at this level or in these specific positions.

“It’s shown me who is versatile.

“I really do rate this squad and, without us sounding arrogant, I think we should be higher.

“What’s been interesting for me is that we’ve had lads stepping up to the plate who might not have had their chances normally, so that proves the cloud of the injuries has had a silver lining.”

At times this season, Matlock have been in irresistible form, putting 60 points past Nuneaton Old Edwardians, Ilkeston and Spalding but there have also been other games, against the likes of Loughborough and Leighton Buzzard, where Alan Johnson admits: “We just didn’t perform.”

He outlined: “We’re looking to recapture that form that we had against Ilkeston and Spalding and we have some games coming up, such as away at Derby and Ilkeston, where we must target them because you’ve got to aim high and if you want a top six finish, or higher, they’re the sorts of games you have to try and win.”

Regarding the injury situation, Alan Johnson can see a light at the end of the tunnel and feels key players should hopefully be back in the fold by the end of January.

“We’re hopeful of getting the likes of Alex Powell and Chris Young back in January. Chris Young is the leading points scorer in the league so that’s been a big blow for us, as has Jonny Bunting breaking his leg.

“He’s been a real stalwart here for something like 15 years and obviously it’s going be longer before he comes back but he’s a key player that we’ve missed too.”

As for nominating standout players from the first half of the campaign, Alan Johnson said he had quite a few candidates to choose from, but specifically homed in on two in particular.

“There are plenty to choose from but in the forwards Jack Wagg really stepped up, particularly because he has replaced Chris Young as skipper. He hasn’t played as much rugby as he would have liked in recent times but he has stepped in and done a fantastic job.

“Also, there’s Ben Neville, who has been superb in the backs and also in the role of vice-captain.

“The lads as a whole have done a fantastic job and really helped in my first season in this role. The injuries have shone a light on others who might not have figured as much.

“The situation has told me a lot about the players, their versatility and adaptability and I think in a funny way it has benefitted the team, and the club as a whole, because it has shown us what strength in depth we really have here.

“Now we have to carry on those good points into the second half of the season.”